The clinical laboratory workforce in the U.S. supports a laboratory system that provides patients and medical providers with information essential for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of health and disease. Concerns about the supply of these critical personnel focus on the declining number of accredited education programs and of students entering them, increased demands on the workforce, and growing vacancy rates. Greater diversity is needed to increase the pool of qualified personnel. The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted the workforce and may accelerate future shortages in the field of clinical laboratory medicine.
A study examining these issues and identifying ways to address them resulted in the report, Clinical Laboratory Workforce: Understanding the Challenges to Meeting Current and Future Needs.1 This study was conducted by ASCP and the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies (UW CHWS), and funded through grants by the Siemens Healthineers Fund. The team conducted semi-structured interviews (UW CHWS) with key informants representing clinical laboratory education, employers, and professional organizations, and focus groups (ASCP) with individuals in clinical laboratory occupations representing the target professions for this study. While the clinical laboratory workforce is comprised of many roles, six groups were the focus of this study: histotechnicians, medical laboratory assistants, medical laboratory technicians, phlebotomy technicians (also known as phlebotomists), histotechnologists, and medical laboratory scientists. The goal was to assess the barriers and pathways leading to laboratory careers, the opportunities for professional development, and factors that support clinical laboratory workforce diversity and retention.
Results from interviews and focus groups conducted by this study strongly emphasized that meeting future workforce needs will require actions by, and collaboration among, education and training programs, employers, and professional organizations. While the COVID pandemic increased the visibility of clinical laboratory roles, it also impacted education, training, and practice. Our results suggest that there is an opportunity to leverage the pandemic’s spotlight on the laboratory, as well as other findings from this study, to call attention to areas where there are opportunities to improve recognition of the clinical laboratory workforce and enhance careers in the field. If implemented, actions in these areas will likely contribute to increases in the availability of clinical laboratory workforce supply and strengthen the pathways into and among these careers long into the future.
Through our examination of six laboratory professions, this study revealed issues and targeted solutions to strengthen clinical laboratory workforce education, recruitment and retention. Building on the study’s evidence is the need to coordinate efforts with a clearly articulated path forward that involves partnerships across stakeholders to address the needs of the field and ensure that patients get high quality care.
A Blueprint for Action was also developed, which provides a synopsis of the challenges and barriers identified in the study, Clinical Laboratory Workforce: Understanding the Challenges to Meeting Current and Future Needs1, and outlines a blueprint of potential interventions to strengthen the clinical laboratory professional workforce. This document will be published later this year.